By: Emily Del Bel
It never fails to amaze me to think of the types of foods that were invented without the detailed understanding of food chemistry that we have today, either by much trial and error, or accident. Hominy is the perfect example.
Hominy is a food that has been around for hundreds of years. Historically it was a staple of the Native American diet, and it still is a prominent figure in many Latin American cuisines. Hominy is field corn (not sweet corn) that has been treated with food grade calcium hydroxide in a process now known as nixtamalization. This process alters the chemistry of the tough, fairly inedible corn kernel, causing the endosperm to swell and soften. Ultimately it is transformed from a hard and tasteless mass into a soft and nutritious kernel.
Can you imagine how that was discovered? It probably happened when someone accidentally left lye or wood ash (historically used for cleaning) in the cooking pot. Of course I am totally guessing here, since an internet search yielded nothing. When ground, hominy forms masa harina, a flour used to make corn tortillas, tamales, and other yummy things. Hominy is also the basis for a delicious pudding common in Brazil known as canjica. I’ll share a recipe I developed below.
Hominy Coconut Pudding (Canjica)
- 2 c. canned white hominy, drained and rinsed
- 2 c. milk
- 1 c. shredded unsweetened coconut
- ½ – ¾ c. sugar, depending on your preference
- 1 c. water
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/8 t. ground cloves
- ½ t. vanilla extract
- 2 T cornstarch
Place the milk, water, hominy coconut into a medium sized pot. On medium high heat, bring the mixture until warm, stirring frequently. At this point I grabbed my handy stick blender and pulsed it a few times to break up the kernels and larger coconut flakes. You could do this beforehand if you prefer. Actually, it would probably help prevent you from splashing it all over the stove like I did…
Have I mentioned that I am a messy cook?
Stir in the cinnamon, cloves, and vanilla, and slowly whisk the cornstarch in until thoroughly distributed. At this point you should be stirring constantly. Bring the mixture to a boil and hold there for 3-5 minutes, until thick. Remove from heat, and portion into individual cups. Let cool for a few minutes so you don’t burn your tongue, sprinkle with additional cinnamon and enjoy!
If you are interested in learning in more detail about the chemical changes that take place during nixtamalization, take a look at the paper “Changes in Corn and Sorghum during Nixtamalization and Tortilla Baking” by M.H. Gomez and others, published in the Journal of Food Science in 1989.
What kinds of foods fascinate you? Can you think of other foods that were discovered by accident? Share your thoughts in the comments below.